Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is with the lovely Kelly McKernan, who creates stunning watercolor art both for galleries and as illustration. Enjoy!
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
My name is Kelly McKernan, I’m 29 years old, and I’m a freelance illustrator and a gallery artist. I work traditionally, mainly in watercolor and occasionally in acrylic. I’m currently based in Nashville, Tennessee, and have a 15 month old daughter.
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of art?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist for as long as I can recall, but turning it into a viable career wasn’t something I had really faced until my last year or two of college. Until then, it was pretty much, “eh, I’ll figure it out.” But when the reality of graduation came around, I hunkered down and began figuring out how to actually make money with my work.
Auguryby Kelly McKernan
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional artist?
The usual stuff. Working it out financially has been the biggest factor in making the transition from amateur into professional. I was able to quit part-time work and pursue my work full-time in mid-2012 when we moved to Nashville from Atlanta. From there, being self-disciplined enough to work hard and often was the next struggle. Now, the biggest obstacle is finding the time to work on all of my projects while raising my daughter.
(...) Being self-disciplined enough to work hard and often was the next struggle.
4. What do you like the most about making art?
I like discovering the personalities and stories within the work that I create. There’s always an “aha” moment in every piece where the subject looks back at me and the remainder of the painting is pretty clear and it becomes enjoyable after that. Not that it’s enjoyable before, but that time is spent searching and building and searching some more.
Dark Wings Dark Wordsby Kelly McKernan
5. What do you like the least about it?
I don’t like that it often feels tedious because it’s become my job now. I’ve had so much work lately that I’m having difficulty enjoying what I’m doing and feeling passionate about the work. My energy is often low because I have a toddler that requires almost constant attention, and when I have the time to work, all I truly want to do is nap or relax or do something that’s entirely for me.
6. The bio on your website piqued my interest in the thought process and philosophy behind your work. Can you elaborate a little on it?
That applies more to my personal work these days, and it’s evolved quite a lot in the last several years, but the overall themes are still the same. My work tends to be centered on the idealistic and fantastical woman. I like to think they’re all going through personal revelations and self-discovery.
7. How does your illustration work differ from your gallery work and do you prefer one over the other?
Most of the work on the illustration side of my portfolio were created for specifically themed gallery shows, as I haven’t had much commercial illustration work, but I still want to show what I can create when given a directive. Which, I do truly enjoy and I don’t accept exhibition invitations unless I’m really excited about the theme. Those are often really fun and a chance for me to try some new things.
With the more fine-arty gallery work, I get to create from my own whims, though I tend to be a little more reserved with higher focus on emotional and psychological side of things.
I really enjoy both equally for different reasons! It’s especially nice when I have a comfortable mix of both going on in my studio at any given time.
I don’t accept exhibition invitations unless I’m really excited about the theme.
8. Any tips for artists who would like to do gallery work?
If you’re unsure of where to start, look up some artists whose work you feel your style is similar to.
Undulateby Kelly McKernan
Check out their recent exhibitions and look up those galleries. Peruse the gallery’s website and check out their exhibiting artists and the shows that they put together. Does your work look like it fits? If so, look at their contact info or about sections, and that’s where you’ll usually see instructions on how to submit your work, if they’re accepting submissions. If you don’t hear back right away, wait about 6 months before submitting again, this time with new work.
Illusoryby Kelly McKernan
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
The first thing that comes to mind isn’t so much advice as much as a criticism that really opened my eyes. I took a SmArt School class with Dan Dos Santos and in the first class, he took a look at my portfolio and remarked that I looked like someone that got good really fast and stopped challenging myself. He was right – I reached a plateau with my work in 2013. That was very key in me becoming open to trying new things and challenging myself.
(...) he took a look at my portfolio and remarked that I looked like someone that got good really fast and stopped challenging myself.
10. What are some of your career goals for the future?
In the next few years, I’d like to see my home life better balanced so that I can be more productive. I hope to have a few big commercial illustration jobs under my belt and primarily be working as an illustrator and less reliant on gallery work.
Deliriumby Kelly McKernan
Harbringerby Kelly McKernan
Thank you for your time, Kelly and best of luck with your future endeavors!
As for you, dear reader, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this interview. If so please take a second to share it so even more people might enjoy the series, thank you!
View all Women in Fantasy Illustration interviews here.